Quality in Healthcare: An Olympic Task

Friday, February 17th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

As happens every four years, I’m hooked on this year’s Winter Olympics. Last night while watching, I was once again amazed at the miniscule amounts of time that separate the gold medal winner in the men’s downhill skiing competition from those who don’t medal at all. I also watched a male figure skater placed out of medal contention because of one bad jump in an otherwise flawless performance.

The pressure on these athletes must be so incredibly intense when their life’s work is judged by one performance. The men’s downhill competition was just three minutes long; the men’s figure skating program is not quite three minutes.

In the healthcare industry, there are, of course, many instances in where three minutes can make all the difference in someone’s health, but for the most part we have significantly more than three minutes to make a difference.

But, I wonder if we can learn something from these Olympic athletes as they continually strive for performance improvement.

Performance improvement efforts are expanding in healthcare with pay for performance programs, hospital report cards and quality measurements.

Emulating the focus of these Olympic athletes, we can we tweak and test every element of our programs to make sure that we are getting the best results that we can? Take for instance, the snow-boarder who takes another “line” down the mountain, after seeing the results of someone else’s performance; is the healthcare industry truly learning and emulating other organizations’ best practices?

During our recent audio conference, CMS’ New Voluntary Physician Pay-for-Performance Program: Identifying the Opportunities , Julie Baker, director of the healthcare advisory practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, spoke of the December 2005 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on improvement of performance measurements. In the report, the IOM recommended a nationally endorsed set of standards that are developed through consensus processes.

Baker said she strongly believes the industry is moving in the direction of national standards, part and parcel with the pay-for-performance programs that are being developed and expanded across the country.

Speaking with Baker was Robert Fortini, clinical operations manager, Community Care Physicians. Fortini walked through the QI initiatives at his 2,000-physician, multi-specialty practice in upstate New York. Community Care Physicians has seen remarkable results from its focus on QI and is striving with each initiative to improve its results even more – sort of like U.S. downhill skier Ted Ligety, who won a gold medal on Tuesday with an improved time in his second slalom run.

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